I’m not a mental health professional, expert, or guru by any stretch of the imagination but I don’t need to be in order to see the interdependent relationship between mental health and addiction issues.
Recently a friend who hosts a mental health wellness show on Blab (yet another social media platform!) asked me to guest co-host a show called “How to Be a Mental Health Advocate when you’re Not a Mental Health Pro.” Her show speaks about mental health issues and wellness, so at first I wasn’t sure why she wanted me to co-host since I’m an addiction advocate, but when I thought about it and we spoke leading up to the show, I saw the connection very clearly and decided to go on. Addiction and mental health go hand in hand with each other and in a lot of instances; one feeds the other, so in terms of advocacy there really is no difference to me.
My addiction advocacy started for selfish reasons, as I think most advocacy does if we’re being honest. I started having dreams about my brother who I had lost to alcoholism 8 years ago and was becoming very agitated, restless, couldn’t sleep and acting out of character. I spoke to my husband, who is in long term recovery, and he suggested that I talk to someone, so I tried Al-Anon again after trying and not liking it 14 years earlier. In the process of going to meetings and doing research, I found that while there was a lot of information and resources for people with addiction issues, there wasn’t much available for families.
Bothered by this, I started connecting with the groups I could find online, and Twitter has been an excellent resource for this, and started writing about and speaking out about the need for support for families suffering from addiction. In the process of doing the research and increasing my understanding on addiction, I was surprised at how much mental health issues play a part in addiction and how closely the two are tied together. Co-occurrence happens a lot in addiction: people use to deal with their mental health issues or their addiction can lead to mental health issues.
Selfishness Ends Up Benefiting Others
The interesting thing about advocacy is that while it may start from a selfish place, it ends up benefiting so many others. I think a lot of people start advocating for a specific issue or cause because it is something they have personally experienced and want to see change for the better. But in the course of doing that work, they end up helping so many more along the way and help to educate and break stigma; this is vital when it comes to issues as polarizing as addiction and mental health.
There are many people who may want to get involved or give back, but because they don’t personally have an addiction or mental health issue feel they can’t or don’t know how. To those people I would say that even if you haven’t been touched personally by these issues, you know someone who has. Just as they say everyone knows someone who has been touched by cancer, the same is true with addiction and mental health. Whether it’s a friend or a co-worker; a business associate or a relative down the line…everyone knows someone who has been touched by these issues.
The thing about addiction and mental health is that you could be living, working or be friends with a person who has these issues and you may never know because of the stigma surrounding them. This is particularly true in communities of color where these issues are just not talked about openly or they try to “pray away” the issue and that person or family is further shamed and prevented from getting the help they desperately need.
But let’s say you are one of the rare people in the world who doesn’t know anyone who has any issues with addiction or mental health, what if one day you were to come across someone who needed help? Just having even a basic understanding of addiction and mental health issues that comes with advocacy, you’ll be able to help a friend, a co-worker, or family member who may not know where to turn or what to do. You can be that lifeline for them and also let them know that it’s okay and direct them to the help they need and that they are not alone.
If you feel the desire to help strongly enough, please do not let the fact that it hasn’t touched you personally stop you from getting involved because addiction and mental health issues are everywhere and you never know when it could happen to you or someone you know.
Nadine Herring is a blogger that specializes in writing about addiction from the family perspective and community building & organizing. She is a Heroes in Recovery Lead Advocate, community activist, runner, new cyclist, and owner of a small animal kingdom consisting of 2 dogs and 3 cats (all rescues).